ISTANBUL, June 13 (Reuters) - State-run Ziraat Bank, Turkey's biggest lender, has temporarily ceased operations in Baghdad over security concerns after dozens of Turkish citizens were taken hostage by militants in the north of Iraq, an executive said on Friday.
Militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) abducted 31 Turkish truck drivers as they overran the northern city of Mosul this week during a lightning advance, then seized the Turkish consulate, holding another 49 people.
Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric on Friday urged followers to defend themselves against the advance by Sunni militants, a sharp escalation of a conflict which is threatening civil war and the potential break-up of the country.
Ziraat staff in Baghdad have been sent on leave and the bank will assess the situation again next week, the executive said on condition of anonymity.
Ziraat opened a branch in Baghdad in 2008, then a branch in the Kurdish-run northern city of Arbil, mainly serving Turkish construction firms and their workers in Iraq. The volume of loans at the Arbil branch alone reached $215 million in February, according to a report published by the bank. (Reporting by Ebru Tuncay; Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Nick Tattersall)